Striking a new blow at the Nazi homeland only a few hours after RAF heavy bombers had cascaded more than 350 two-ton blockbusters on Berlin in a record-breaking assault on the Reich, U.S. Fortresses yesterday blasted their way into western Germany to carry the Allies' growing air offensive into its third straight day.
Thirty-two Ships Lost
The Eighth Air Force communique, identifying the B17s' objectives only as "targets in western Germany," announced that all planes returned. The Forts, escorted by P47 Thunderbolts, met little flak and no fighters.
The quickening pace of the Anglo-American air blows suggested that the winter campaign to bomb Germany out of the war, delayed for a month by bad weather over the continent, had at last begun in full force.
The RAF's smash at Berlin, coupled with the second attack in two nights upon the great chemical city of Ludwigshafen, 52 miles south of Frankfurt, saw a greater number of heavy bombers over Germany than ever before. Between 850 and 1,000 bombers probably dropped close to 2,500 tons in the two raids.
The Berlin attack lasted half an hour, and while it was in progress, the Air Ministry said, "fires glowed over a wide area and a whole series of violent explosions burst through the clouds."
The assumed bomb weight of 2,500 tons, divided among the two targets, outstripped the largest previous load of 2,300 tons in one night, dropped three times on Hamburg. Several German cities have been blasted by more than 2,000 tons, among them Dortmund and Essen. The heaviest weight ever dropped on London in one night, on the other hand, was only 450 tons.
The loss of 32 bombers out of the two great RAF formations sent to Germany compared with losses of 58, 47 and 22 in the last three raids on Berlin.
Suburbs Hit, Berlin Says
It was the German capital's first heavy attack since Sept. 3, although swift Mosquitoes in light nuisance raids have set sirens moaning in Berlin two or three nights a week since midsummer.
German radio said the attack -- the RAF's 87th visit -- was made under unfavorable weather conditions, a statement viewed in London as an alibi for the failure of Luftwaffe fighters to protect the capital.
Airmen pointed out that the strategy of two almost simultaneous raids in force confused the German high command. They pointed out that as soon as the first force was identified striking east, Nazi fighters probably were dispatched to intercept it or patrol its route home. At that point the second bomber force striking southeast to Ludwigshafen appeared, forcing regrouping and reorganization of defenses, with the result that both bomber forces were able to bore through against unconcentrated opposition.
Berlin radio said that ack-ack and fighters "prevented a massed raid on Berlin" and added that "most of the bombs were dropped in the densely populated suburbs." The broadcaster claimed 17 planes were shot down.
Over Ludwigshafen, world's largest chemical manufacturing center -- attacked the second time in as many nights -- clearer weather prevailed and the Air Ministry said several very large explosions were seen.
It was Ludwigshafen's 62nd raid, and the fact that it was the second heavy blow in 24 hours, aimed probably at the sprawling I. G. Farbenindustrie chemical works stretching for three miles along the Rhine's west bank, would seem to indicate that the great chemical city is next on Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris's list for "emasculation" like Hamburg. Mannheim, its twin manufacturing city across the river, was reported from Germany this week to be 80 per cent destroyed.
From neutral Sweden, meanwhile, came dispatches asserting that American Liberators "delivered a crippling blow to the Nazi air force" in Thursday's attack on the Luftwaffe's principal repair base in Norway, at Kjeller, 11 miles northeast of Oslo. Norwegian sources were quoted as saying that, since the RAF destruction of the Sola plant near Stavanger, the Kjeller airdrome had been the only important repair base fitted to keep the Luftwaffe flying in Norway.
Crews said a long row of buildings comprising the repair depot erupted in giant explosions and four big fires were started.
One Liberator group said about 15 or 20 Ju88s and FW190s -- and about four Stuka dive bombers which were in their prime early in the war -- attacked their formation over the Norwegian coast on the homeward journey. The use of Stukas as interceptors was remarked as evidence of the Luftwaffe's pressing need for fighters.
One of the big B24s crash-landed on one wheel at its home base after 2/Lt. Rockford C. Griffith, of Coody's Cluff, Okla., had ordered seven of the crew to bail out, leaving only himself, his co-pilot, and a badly wounded ball turret gunner in the disabled ship.